The Art Of Writing...It Varies (Part One: The Idea)
The Art Of Writing...It Varies (Part Two: The Outline)
Onto the fun stuff.
Now that I have everything in hand from the previous two posts, having transformed my Idea into an Outline, it's time to get down and dirty with The Writing.
It all starts with the First Draft. This is the make it or break it point for me personally. If I can make it through a First Draft then I know that someday, someway, somewhere, the project will be published. But sometimes, no matter how good The Idea is or how strong The Outline, the story fizzles and drops forever into a chasm somewhere along the way. I know I'm not alone in this. Stephen King wrote, “Look, writing a novel is like paddling from Boston to London in a bathtub; sometimes the damn tub sinks. It’s a wonder that most of them don’t.” You can read the entire article Here.
But for the sake of this post, let's pretend things go great, or as great as possible. I call my First Draft the Bare Bones Draft, The Skeleton.
Here I vomit the words out from my head and let them fall as they will, building The Skeleton from the feet up. I write every major scene and all the important dialogue (though at this stage the scenes range from highly detailed to one or two sentences, and the dialogue ranges from Shakespearean to Ga Ga Goo Goo) and bridge the gaps between scenes that were left unfilled in The Outline, where possible, and go until I reach the words The End.
When I'm done I sit back and breathe a sigh of relief, and then I look at what I've written and think, "Wow! What a colossal piece of shit! I really need to go back to work at KFC because I will NEVER make it as a writer." This happens to me nine times out of ten.
But then I remember what the late, great Ernest Hemingway said about First Drafts: “The first draft of anything is shit.”
With those words in mind, I dive into the Second Draft with a renewed confidence, where I dress the bones in flesh. Now, before I go any further I should point out that I'm a linear writer. I start at the beginning and go to straight to the end of each draft, no turnoffs, no jumping ahead. I say this because other writers have drastically different styles. Some start off linear and then start to jump around, writing whatever they feel like: a scene at the beginning of the story here, or one near the end there, then jumping to the middle, and then back to the end before returning to the beginning for a while.
Mind-boggling, to me.
Other writers take a POV character and, along with one or two secondary POV characters, write their threads from beginning to end, and then return to the beginning to work on another POV character, rinse and repeat until they have them all down and then they combine and polish them in a more linear fashion until complete.
That way makes more sense to me than the first but still, seems like a lot unnecessary steps.
And then you have those rare writers who write in an ultra-linear fashion, writing a scene at a time but not moving on until that scene is polished to a fine shine before moving onto the next, all the way to the end. This might make the most sense but it's still not my gig. Remember from The Outline that I'm FSCF, so I couldn't hold myself back like that. My temperament spurs me on, forever striving for forward progress.
In technical jargon: I'm a loosy goosy linear writer.
For the Second Draft I flesh everything out, adding details where needed, heavily, strengthening dialogue and scene bridges, adding new characters and scenes as needed, or new plot threads when they come to mind, keeping in the back of my head that whatever I don't perfect in this draft, I have another shot in the next. And at last I find my way back to The End.
In contrast to how I feel about the end of my First Drafts, by the end of the Second I'm like "Wow! This is the next big thing!" I then let the draft cool for a day or two before going back to it.
My Third Draft is my Fat Cutting/Heavy Edit draft. Here I chop some of the fat off and tighten things up (as we all know, some fat is healthy, but not too much) look for inconsistencies and contradictions within the plot and characters and correct them, look for typos, all the while strengthening scenes and dialogue as I go until I once more hit The End. Where I felt despair and elation with the previous two drafts, when I look upon the finished Third Draft I inexplicably feel panic-attack inducing anxiety. Here I spent all these weeks and months working away, plugging out tens of thousands of words, going line by line to make sure everything's right and perfect, but yet the MS always seemed to be lacking something: the characters aren't believable, the dialogue is lame and choppy, the story is uninteresting, has been done before, is confusing, or not confusing enough. Thoughts post-First Draft creep back into my head, wondering if I should give my old manager a call, if he still works there, to beg him for a job.
But then I sleep on it and decide, as I always do, to hit the next draft.
The Fourth Draft is my polish draft, where I put some makeup on the ugly mofo and make the MS look pretty. Here I basically continue what I did in the Third Draft, cutting, editing, building muscle where needed. No TV, no music, just me and the words in another world, bringing everything to life. Usually by the end of this draft I'm more confident of the story's commercial viability but I'm not there yet. It's here where I have to decide on another draft or a final read. There's a difference.
When it comes to projects, I've done anywhere between 3 to 10 drafts before submitting to an editor. Other writers I know of have done as little as 2 and as many as 15+. So, whatever floats your boat. For me, I continue polishing and editing Drafts until nothing "bothers" me about the MS (dialogue issues, plot issues, etc,) or when I realize that I've stopped editing and polishing and have begun to simply "change" things instead. When I reach The End for what seems like the millionth time, I take a break, since by now, let's face it, I'm sick of the story and everything to do with it.
I'll let the MS sit for a week or two (not easy, believe me. as much as I'm sick of it, the damn thing will call my name constantly, begging for attention, that greedy bitch) So I put my ear muffs on and spend the interim doing light work on one of the other million projects on the ledger: Outlining, Brainstorming, Sketching.
And then at last I return to the MS and commence the Final Read. Here I put my reader goggles on and just read. If something snags my eye or jars my brain, I fix it. If I see a typo, I fix it. Other than that I simply read to The End. And by now I'm feeling once again that the MS is "the next great thing", a least until I submit it to an editor, but that's for my next post.
My problem now is that I have the urge to read it again, and again, to make sure it's perfect, but I keep myself from doing so because I've done it before and realize A) There'll be no end to it, and B) When you read something a hundred times over, nothing changes save that you begin to hate it.
It's a vicious circle.
So anyways, that's it. That's my current writing process from beginning to end, but the work doesn't end there. Keep an eye out for my next series: Getting Published...Ugh: Submitting, Rejection, Published.